Monday, March 20, 2006

Jüngel: God is More Than Necessary

Well, I have emerged from my basketball cocoon, and I'm ready to blog again!! Sadly, the Badgers did not fare well in the tournament. They were soundly beaten by a hot-shooting Arizona team, which later gave No. 1 Villanova a real fight. Also, with so many surprising upsets (for goodness sake, Bradley!!), my brackets are in complete disarray, although my predicted Final Four teams are still alive. All in all, a disappointing weekend, but I love the drama of March nonetheless.

When not watching basketball, I was immersing myself in Eberhard Jüngel's book God as the Mystery of the World (GMW), which comes highly recommended by Ben Myers at Faith and Theology. Ben has an excellent series of posts on Jüngel, whom he considers to be the world's greatest living theologian, and he also explains why Jüngel is not widely read:
"He is by far the most difficult theological thinker in recent times. He has his own unique and highly refined conceptuality, which draws especially on the philosophy of Heidegger, but also on the theology of Barth, the philosophy of Hegel, and the hermeneutic of Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling. At times it can take an extraordinary effort to penetrate this conceptuality and to grasp Jüngel’s point. In addition, Jüngel has never shown even the slightest interest in English-language theology, and he is even said to have boasted that his own (exceedingly German) theology is untranslatable into English. (Happily, though, translators like Darrell Guder, John Webster and Jeffrey Cayzer have proved him wrong).

My limited experience with GMW leads me to agree whole-heartedly with Ben's statement that "extraordinary effort" is required to "penetrate" and "grasp" Jüngel’s dense prose. However, it's well worth the effort, as Jüngel is clearly an original and brilliant thinker, although much of what he says is frankly lost on me.

The subtitle of GMW is "On the Foundations of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism", and Jüngel begins by asking the provocative question "Is God Necessary?" Jüngel's answer is a surprising "No", since he believes that "theology is, in fact, being confronted with a truth when the worldly nonnecessity of God is asserted [by atheists]." He later emphasizes that:
"Man can be human without God. There is no doubt that man can do that. He can live without experiencing God. He can speak, hear, think, and act without speaking about God, without perceiving God, without thinking about God, without working for him. And he can do all of that very well and with great responsibility. The human person can well live without God, can listen attentively, think acutely, act responsibly... Man can be human without God. One can!"

So Jüngel concurs with modern atheism that God is unnecessary, but this decision is theologically motivated. He asserts that the proposition "God is necessary" is "not worthy of God", since God exists only to serve a specific function that the world requires. But as humanity "comes of age", it gradually realizes that it no longer needs God to perform these functions, and eventually God is dismissed altogether ("I have no need of that hypothesis"). In this way, "proof of the necessity of God is the midwife of modern atheism".

So modern atheism is correct in asserting the possibility of human existence without God, but it makes a critical mistake by postulating the necessity of a godless humanity. Contra atheism, Jüngel argues that "God is not necessary... He is more than necessary." This is a very difficult statement to understand, and Jüngel goes to great lengths to explain it. First, he discusses the freedom of God, saying that this "freedom is always self-determination." The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of God is that this self-determination involves the humanity of Jesus, and thus "God comes to God, but with man. God's humanity belongs to his divinity." This is an act of pure love, not necessity:
"This self-determination, if it really is a decision of love which desires to come to itself with another one and only with that one, implies the freedom of God and man as opposites of each other. If God has created man as the one elected for love, then man is what he is for his own sake. For one is loved only for his sake or not at all... If then man is the one elected for love, he is what he is in a relationship to God which is determined by freedom. This relationship could only be diminished by any talk of the necessity of God for man."

God, out of love, has created the world in such a way that it can exist without him, and thus the world can function as his true counterpart. This implies that man is free with respect to God, and that both man and God are "interesting for their own sakes". In this manner, Jüngel affirms the atheistic assumption that "man is the measure" of all worldly things and that man exists within himself. However, he also claims that "God makes man, who is interesting for his own sake, interesting in a new way." I look forward to learning more about this "new way"...

1 comment:

Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It! said...

As do I. Sounds intriguing. Thanks for the intro.